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Sussex officials negotiating farm sale

Village wants to buy Meissner land for development

May 29, 2012

Village of Sussex - Village officials have apparently been in secret negotiations with a private developer over the possible purchase from Johnson Bank of about 120 acres of farmland on the west edge of the village near Highway 164 and Silver Spring Road (Highway VV).

Peter Meissner, whose family used to own land, told the Sussex Sun that apparently village officials are prepared to pay an inflated price for the land in order to secure it for a commercial park that would be developed by NAI/MLG Developers.

Meissner said his family has been attempting since late 2011 to purchase the 400 acres of farmland that the Meissners once owned.

The Meissners sold the land on Silver Spring Road west of the Kohl's/Shopko retail complex in 2002 to Bielinski Brothers, who had intended to develop it.

But the development attempts failed, and Johnson Bank took possession of the land.

Meissner said he learned of the village's interest in the land during his efforts to purchase it from the bank. He said he told Village President Greg Goetz and Trustee Pat Tetzlaff that if the family purchased the land, they would continue to farm it.

Goetz could not be reached for comment. Tetzlaff said she would not discuss the conversation because it involved issues being discussed in closed sessions of the Village Board.

Meissner said he warned the village officials that the land might not be suitable for commercial development because of economic conditions, and more than 100 acres of the nearly 400 acres is wetlands and there is bedrock beneath the surface on other parts of the land.

Meissner told the Sussex Sun that Johnson Bank has appraised the land. But he declined to reveal the amount of the appraisal because the value was established for nearly all of 400 acres, and the village is apparently interested in only 120 acres.

However, he said the appraisal is the equivalent of about $10,000 per acre, although the village has indicated it is prepared to pay a much higher price.

Other sources have told the Sussex Sun that the village may be prepared to offer more than $2 million for the land.

Meissner, whose family have been longtime farmers in the Lisbon-Sussex community, was asked how he felt about having local government competing with him in an effort to acquire the land.

"They have much deeper pockets than I do," he said.

Village officials have conducted three closed sessions over the negotiations, two of them in the past month, April 24 and May 23. After the May 23 meeting, Goetz was asked why the closed sessions were necessary.

"We are discussing the possibility of a TIF. There are a lot of issues. Some of them involve money, and not all of the cards are on the table yet. That is why we have to have a closed session," Goetz explained. Goetz did not mention the possibility of the village purchasing the land.

Public notices of the closed sessions said they were for the purpose discussing the purchase of land and a developer's agreement with MLG.

A TIF is a tax incremental financing district, which would be created by the village for the purpose of generating real estate tax revenues that would be used to help pay for public improvements such as streets, sidewalks and sewer, water and stormwater utilities necessary for the private development.

In fall 2011, village officials indicated they were considering creating a TIF to provide NAI/MLG with incentives to develop a commercial park on the former Meissner farmland. NAI/MLG officials said in November they were interested in purchasing most of the 400 acres from Johnson Bank.

However, last week in an interview with the Sussex Sun, NAI/MLG Vice President Andy Bruce indicated the company had pared back on its plans to purchase the land. He said the developers had a sales contract with the bank to purchase a smaller portion of the land, but he would not say how much.

"We do not want to discuss the details until we have had an opportunity to meet with the elected officials of the village and present it to them," he said.

It is unclear why or how the private discussions between the village officials and the developer shifted from the developer purchasing the 120 acres to the village purchasing the land for the developer.

It is also unclear how a TIF could be created on publicly owned land since there would be no real estate tax assessment and collection of revenues from the land.

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